September 30, 2002
And now the moment you've all been waiting for...
Aaron Gleeman's 2002 Playoff Previews and Predictions:
Arizona Diamondbacks (98-64) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)
Game 1: Randy Johnson (24-5, 2.32 ERA, .743 SNPct) vs. Matt Morris (17-9, 3.42 ERA, .587 SNPct)
Game 2: Curt Schilling (23-7, 3.23 ERA, .682 SNPct) vs. Chuck Finley (11-15, 4.15 ERA, .540 SNPct)
Game 3: Rick Helling (10-12, 4.51 ERA, .514 SNPct) / Miguel Batista (8-9, 4.29 ERA, .481 SNPct) vs. Woody Williams (9-4, 2.53 ERA, .701 SNPct)
Game 4: Johnson vs. Morris
Game 5: Schilling vs. Finley
Team stats (NL ranking):
Runs scored: Arizona 819 (1) / St. Louis 787 (2)
Runs allowed: Arizona 674 (5) / St. Louis 648 (4)
Defensive efficiency: Arizona .7115 (7) / St. Louis .7208 (3)
Team EqA: Arizona .265 (4) / St. Louis .267 (3)
Relievers adjusted runs prevented: Arizona 4.2 (10) / St. Louis 57.9 (2)
This is a rematch of last year's ALDS, which Arizona won 3-2.
In last year's series, no team scored more than 5 runs in any of the five games and they were all decided by 3 runs or less.
I expect a very similar series this year, although there are a few differences this time around.
Last year, Arizona's rotation was Schilling, Johnson, Batista, Albie Lopez and Schilling again.
St. Louis started Morris, Williams, Darryl Kile, Bud Smith and Morris a second time.
Schilling beat Morris 1-0 and 2-1 in their two matchups.
The Cards did manage to beat Randy Johnson in his only start.
And St. Louis went 1-1 against the non-Schilling/Johnson starters.
However, this time around, instead of two starts being made by people other than The Big Two, there will only be one.
So the Cardinals are looking at 4 games against Johnson and Schilling, which means they almost have to win game 3 in order to have any shot at winning this series.
As of right now, I haven't heard whether Batista or Helling will be the D-Backs game 3 starter, but in either case, the Cardinals absolutely need to win that game.
On the Cardinals side, they are without Darryl Kile, who very likely would have pitched games 2 and 5.
Let's just assume St. Louis wins game 3.
Do they have any shot at going 2-2 against Johnson and Schilling?
I really doubt it.
On the offensive side of the ball (can you say that for baseball, or is that cliche only reserved for football?), Arizona is without their best hitter, left fielder Luis Gonzalez, who injured his shoulder last week and is out for the entire post-season.
In addition to Gonzalez, they are also without last year's playoff hero, Craig Counsell.
Any time you lose a hitter as good as Gonzalez it is going to hurt a team, but the D-Backs do have some decent options to fill in for him.
Against St. Louis' right handed starters (Morris and Williams) they can shift Erubiel Durazo from 1st base to outfield and insert Mark Grace at 1st base, where he started last year.
If Brenly doesn't want to have Durazo roaming the outfield, he can leave him at 1st base, put Grace on the bench and put David Dellucci in the outfield.
And against Chuck Finley, they can sub Greg Colbrunn in for either Durazo or Grace.
Durazo would be the much better choice to sit against Finley, as he struggled big time against lefties this year (.167/.274/.296), while Grace actually hit them very well (.325/.379/.500).
However, I am not sure how comfortable Brenly would be using Colbrunn in the outfield, so we may see Colbrunn at 1st base against lefties, with someone like Felix Jose or possibly Danny Bautista (who may or may not be healthy in time to play in the 1st round) in the outfield.
If I were Brenly, I would take the chance defensively with Colbrunn in the outfield and Mark Grace at 1st base against lefties.
All that being said, I would expect the Arizona lineup to look something like this:
SS - Tony Womack
2B - Junior Spivey
1B - Mark Grace / Greg Colbrunn
RF - Erubiel Durazo / Greg Colbrunn / Felix Jose
3B - Matt Williams
CF - Steve Finley
LF - Quinton McCracken
C - Damian Miller
That's not a bad lineup top to bottom, which is why (along with a home ballpark that favors hitting) they ranked 1st in the NL in scoring runs.
Adjusting the hitting performance to take into account the ballpark they played in, the D-Backs drop to 4th in the NL in EqA, which is still pretty good.
They would be better off with McCracken leading off and Womack batting 8th, but I doubt Bob Brenly would ever do that.
He might hit Spivey a little more in the middle of the lineup and shift McCracken to the 2nd spot though.
The Diamondbacks, even without Luis Gonzalez, have some guys who do a good job getting on-base and they have enough power, with Durazo, Finley and Colbrunn (when he plays) to score some runs, and they won't need to score that many to win with Johnson and Schilling starting 80% of the games.
The D-Backs ranked 1st in the NL in scoring runs but, as good as they are offensively, the Cardinals might be little bit better, especially considering Luis Gonzalez's injury.
The Cardinals ranked 2nd in the NL in runs scored.
But, Busch Stadium is a slight pitcher's park, while Bank One is a big hitter's park, so the Cardinals actually have a better team offensively when accounting for ballparks.
They had the 3rd highest team EqA in the NL, while Arizona was 4th.
I would expect the Cardinals lineup to look something like this (although, with Tony LaRussa, you can never assume anything lineup wise):
2B - Fernando Vina
SS - Edgar Renteria
CF - Jim Edmonds
LF - Albert Pujols
3B - Scott Rolen
1B - Tino Martinez
RF - J.D. Drew / Eli Marrero
C - Eli Marrero / Mike Matheny
But with LaRussa, like I said, who knows.
You might see a lot of Miguel Cairo or something equally as mind boggling.
These are two very good offensive teams, but I think Johnson and Schilling 4 times in 5 games will just be too much for the Cardinals hitters to deal with and the Diamondbacks offense should be able to score runs off of Finley and Williams.
Prediction: Diamondbacks in 5.
Atlanta Braves (101-59) vs. San Francisco Giants (95-66)
Game 1: Tom Glavine (18-11, 2.96 ERA, .634 SNPct) vs. Russ Ortiz (14-10, 3.61 ERA, .550 SNPct)
Game 2: Greg Maddux (16-6, 2.62 ERA, .683 SNPct) vs. Kirk Rueter (14-8, 3.23 ERA, .547 SNPct)
Game 3: Kevin Millwood (18-8, 3.24 ERA, .612 SNPct) vs. Jason Schmidt (13-8, 3.45 ERA, .524 SNPct)
Game 4: Damian Moss (12-6, 3.42 ERA, .587 SNPct) vs. Livan Hernandez (12-16, 4.38 ERA, .450 SNPct)
Game 5: Glavine vs. Ortiz
Team stats (NL ranking):
Runs scored: Atlanta 708 (10) / San Francisco 783 (3)
Runs allowed: Atlanta 565 (1) / San Francisco 616 (2)
Defensive efficiency: Atlanta .7300 (2) / San Francisco .7194 (4)
Team EqA: Atlanta .260 (9) / San Francisco .283 (1)
Relievers adjusted runs prevented: Atlanta 91.5 (1) / San Francisco 48.2 (3)
Somewhere along the line, Barry Bonds became my favorite baseball player.
Since I was introduced to the world of Sabermetrics and I started learning that batting averages and RBIs weren't where it was at as far as looking at hitters, I became a big believer in walks, homers and on-base percentage.
I suppose that, like anyone else who is a believer in walks, homers and on-base percentage, I think Barry Bonds is about as close to God as one can get in a baseball uniform.
He now holds the major league record for walks in a season, home runs in a season and on-base % in a season.
He might be jerk and he might not give the greatest quotes to the media, but Barry Bonds is the greatest baseball player I have ever seen play.
And as the walks keep piling up and the home runs keep splashing into McCovey Cove, I become more and more of a fan of Superman (aka Barry Bonds).
So I'm glad he is back in the post-season, after having possibly the greatest regular season in baseball history.
Because Barry Bonds deserves a chance to do better than he has in past post-seasons.
I would like nothing better than to see Barry Bonds put up a .500/.750/1.250 playoff series on someone and watch as that "not a clutch player" label comes flying off of him.
If Bonds is going to have that .500/.750/1.250 series in the opening round, he is going to have to earn it.
Because the Braves, as always, will be riding their starting pitching as far as it will take them.
In the past, the Atlanta bullpen has been a problem, but this season the Braves' pen was the best in all of baseball, by a pretty huge margin.
They can come at you with righties (Darren Holmes) and lefties (Mike Remlinger), rookies (Tim Spooneybarger) and and guys who have already retired (Chris Hammond), former Cy Young winners (John Smoltz) and former Independent Leaguers (Kerry Ligtenberg).
And all of them can get the job done.
The question will be, can the Atlanta offense score enough runs?
Over the years, Bobby Cox has had a tendency to give too many at bats to guys who just can't hit.
Along with their sometimes weak bullpens, their "automatic outs" in their lineup have hurt the Braves more than anything else in past post-seasons.
And this year is no different.
The Braves gave almost 300 at bats to Keith Lockhart this season, despite the fact that Keith Lockhart has shown a real tendency to not be able to hit a baseball and despite the fact they have had much better options readily available to them at second base (namely Marcus Giles and/or Mark DeRosa).
They also wasted 221 at bats on Henry ".204/.267/.335" Blanco and another 210 on Wes "At least I look like a good hitter" Helms.
Along with Lockhart, Helms and Blanco, the Braves are also using Vinny Castilla to dispose of a lot of their allotted 27 outs each game.
Castilla has been, without a doubt, the least valuable regular in all of major league baseball this season.
There are others who hit worse than Castilla (not very many, but some) but none of them play a position like third base, which is usually occupied by people who hit a lot higher than .232/.268/.348.
But it is way too late to be making trades or waiver wire pickups, so the Braves are stuck with what they have.
And if the past is any indication, Bobby Cox is not going to be sticking Lockhart and Castilla on the bench.
Unless Gary Sheffield or one of the Jones Boys gets extremely hot during this series (which is a distinct possibility) the Braves are going to struggle to score runs.
The Giants on the other hand, even against pitching as good as the Braves will throw at them, should be able to get some runs on the board.
At first glance, the Giants offense looks pretty good, they are 4th in the NL in batting average, 1st in on-base % and 2nd in slugging %.
When you delve a little deeper, you find that their offense is even better than it appears.
The Giants play their 81 home games in the most extreme pitcher's park in all of baseball, Pac Bell Park.
We all know that a .350 batting average or 50 home runs doesn't mean as much in Coors Field as it does anywhere else, so why shouldn't the opposite be true for great pitcher's parks?
Need some proof? Check out the Giants' hitting splits for this season, and keep in mind that teams usually do a little bit better at home than on the road:
home = .258/.338/.409
away = .273/.350/.471
So away from Pac Bell, Superman and Friends see their batting averages go up 15 points, their on-base percentages jump 22 points and their slugging percentages skyrocket up an amazing 62 points!
The reason for the massive dropoff in home slugging % is mostly due to the fact that Pac Bell is an extremely tough place to hit home runs, which makes what Bonds did last season all the more impressive.
When ballpark is taken into account, the Giants actually have the best hitting team in all of baseball, sitting head and shoulders above the rest of baseball with a .283 EqA.
Dusty Baker also has a tendency to play some pretty horrible hitters, giving hundreds of at bats to guys like Tom Goodwin, J.T. Snow and Tsuyoshi Shinjo.
The difference between Dusty's scrubs and Bobby's scrubs is that Dusty's scrubs are made to look a lot worse than they are by their home ballpark, whereas Bobby's scrubs are about as bad as they look.
Goodwin, Snow and Shinjo had .252, .263 and .244 EqAs, while Lockhart, Castilla and Blanco checked in at .216, .216 and .201 respectively.
In addition to the great offense, the Giants also have a pretty good bullpen of their own, ranking 3rd in the NL.
The Giants weakest area is their starting pitching, which ranked 7th in the NL this year.
At first glance they appear to be very good, with a 3.85 ERA this year.
But, as with the offensive stats, the pitcher's performances must be taken in the context of the ballpark they pitched in, which makes them only slightly better than average.
That said, the Giants starting pitching was better in the 2nd half than it was in the first half, and at its best down the stretch in September.
Can the Braves, with their great pitching and mediocre offense beat the Giants, with their mediocre pitching and great offense?
Almost every baseball cliche will tell you that great pitching beats great hitting.
But guess what?
My journalism teacher told me that if you have heard a cliche before, you should never use it.
So I, who worship at the feet of the great Barry Bonds, will say that great hitting (especially when it includes someone with a .580 OBP and a .800 SLG in a severe pitcher's park) will beat great pitching, at least in this series.
GO BARRY, GO!
Prediction: Giants in 5.
New York Yankees (103-58) vs. Anaheim Angels (99-63)
Game 1: Roger Clemens (13-6, 4.35 ERA, .523 SNPct) vs. Jarrod Washburn (18-6, 3.15 ERA, .658 SNPct)
Game 2: Andy Pettitte (13-5, 3.27 ERA, .601 SNPct) vs. Kevin Appier (14-12, 3.92 ERA, .558 SNPct)
Game 3: Mike Mussina (18-10, 4.05 ERA, .536 SNPct) vs. Ramon Ortiz (15-9, 3.77 ERA, .584 SNPct)
Game 4: David Wells (19-7, 3.75 ERA, .526 SNPct) vs. John Lackey (9-4, 3.66 ERA, .520 SNPct) / Washburn
Game 5: Clemens vs. Washburn/Appier
Team stats (AL ranking):
Runs scored: New York 897 (1) / Anaheim 851 (4)
Runs allowed: New York 697 (4) / Anaheim 644 (1)
Defensive efficiency: New York .7079 (8) / Anaheim .7314 (1)
Team EqA: New York .278 (1) / Anaheim .265 (5)
Relievers adjusted runs prevented: New York 31.6 (4) / Anaheim 68.0 (1)
The Evil Empire vs. The Rally Monkey.
Walks and Homers vs. Batting Average and Doubles.
$120 Million vs. $60 Million.
East Coast vs. West Coast.
Steinbrenner vs. Disney.
Suzyn Waldman vs. Rex Hudler.
41 Playoff Appearances, 38 Pennants and 26 World Championships vs. 3 Playoff Appearances, 0 Pennants and 0 World Championships.
This series should be real interesting.
The Angels lead the American League in batting average and hits and were 3rd in doubles and stolen bases.
On the other hand, Anaheim was only 11th in walks and 10th in homers.
The Yankees lead the AL in on-base %, slugging %, walks and runs and were 2nd in homers.
These are two very good offensive teams that rely on completely different offensive skills.
The Angels are a bunch of doubles hitting hackers.
The Yankees are a bunch of home run hitting walkers.
New York has 4 hitters with more than 80 walks and 6 hitters with at least 45.
Anaheim has 1 hitter with more than 80 walks and 4 hitters with at least 45.
And if you read the Giants/Braves part of this entry, you know how much I like walks, homers and on-base %.
I know which type of offense I would rather have in the regular season (the homer/walking kind) but I am not 100% sure which one I would rather have in the playoffs.
Will the Angels struggle to score runs when the hits start drying up and they don't get anyone on base via the walk?
Or will the Yankees struggle to score runs when the walks aren't as plentiful and they aren't getting as many opportunities to hit a 3-run homer.
I think the Yankees will be able to score runs off of Anaheim's pitching staff, particularly off of Appier, Ortiz and the middle relief.
However, the Yankees pitching and defense is their main weakness and I think the Angels are the perfect team to exploit it.
You see, statistically, the Yankees have the worst defense among the eight playoff teams.
Basically, they convert less balls in play into outs than the other teams.
They can generally "get away" with it because their pitchers strike so many guys out.
The Yankees were 2nd in the AL in strikeouts, which means they don't allow as many balls in play for their defense to deal with as most teams.
But if there is one thing the Angels hitters can take advantage of, it is a team that struggles when the ball is put in play.
The Angels simply do not strikeout.
They whiffed only 805 times this entire season, which was far and away the lowest total in all of baseball.
In fact, they were the only team with less than 920 strikeouts.
So, the Yankees rely on their pitching staff's ability to limit the amount of balls put into play, thus limiting the effect their sub par defense has.
But one thing the Angels do is put the ball in play.
It is really an interesting contrast.
A team that racks up big strikeout totals and a team that doesn't strikeout.
A team that has trouble converting balls in play into outs and a team that hits the most balls in play in all of baseball.
We should be seeing a lot of bouncing ground balls that get by the outstretched gloves of Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano.
We should be seeing a lot of balls flying past Bernie Williams and bouncing into the gaps.
I think the Angels will be able to score runs off of the Yankees.
However, whenever you have a team that relies almost entirely upon batting average, as Anaheim does, there is always the danger of a slump.
Batting averages tend to go into a lot more slumps than walks do.
In that regard, the Yankees offense is a lot easier to count on in the post-season.
But I think the Angels offense will be okay, especially considering the performances and injuries that some of the Yankee pitchers are having this year.
The Yankee pitching is vulnerable and Anaheim is in a perfect position to take advantage, and I think they will.
So the question becomes, can the Angels stop the Yankees from scoring?
I think the answer to that, outside of Jarrod Washburn and Troy Percival, will be no.
The Yankees offense is simply too good and too deep.
They hit for power, they hit for average, they get on base, and they do it up and down the lineup.
Plus, they have a deep bench that includes good pinch hitters like John VanderWal (against righties) and Shane Spencer (against lefties).
As much as I would like to see the Yankees go down in round 1, I just don't think it is going to happen.
I see a lot of 6-4 and 7-5 games, with the Yankee middle relief (Mendoza, Weaver, Stanton, Karsay, El Duque) doing a better job than the Angels' (Weber, Donnelly, Levine, Schoeneweis, Shields).
Prediction: Yankees in 5.
Oakland Athletics (103-59) vs. Minnesota Twins (94-67)
Game 1: Tim Hudson (15-9, 2.98 ERA, .645 SNPct) vs. Brad Radke (9-5, 4.72 ERA, .489 SNPct)
Game 2: Mark Mulder (19-7, 3.47 ERA, .618 SNPct) vs. Joe Mays (4-8, 5.38 ERA, .461 SNPct)
Game 3: Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA, .683 SNPct) vs. Rick Reed (15-7, 3.78 ERA, .551 SNPct)
Game 4: Hudson vs. Eric Milton (13-9, 4.84 ERA, .499 SNPct)
Game 5: Mulder vs. Radke
Team stats (AL ranking):
Runs scored: Oakland 800 (8) / Minnesota 768 (9)
Runs allowed: Oakland 654 (2) / Minnesota 712 (6)
Defensive efficiency: Oakland .7193 (3) / Minnesota .7143 (6)
Team EqA: Oakland .266 (4) / Minnesota .258 (8)
Relievers adjusted runs prevented: Oakland 12.6 (7) / Minnesota 51.8 (2)
I could probably write about this series forever.
The Twins are my hometown team and the A's are my favorite non-Minnesota team in all of sports.
But, this entry is already extremely long and I have already written in great depth about this series, so I will try to keep it reasonably short now.
If you are interested in reading some of my longer, more in-depth thoughts on the A's/Twins series, check out some of my previous entries:
September 23rd: My reaction to the Twins announcing their post-season pitching rotation.
September 10th: My analysis of the Twins' pitching for the post-season / What I thought their pitching rotation should have been.
September 9th: My analysis of the Twins' hitting for the post-season / What I thought their batting lineups should have been.
August 23rd: During the A's billion game winning streak, I decide I want absolutely no part of the A's in the post-season.
If you aren't interested in reading those prior entries (and why the heck aren't you?!), I will try to sum up my thoughts as quickly as possible right now...
I think the A's are the worst possible opponent for the Twins to be playing in round 1 of the playoffs.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but two main ones.
1) The Twins do well against right handed pitching and struggle tremendously against left handed pitching AND the A's just happen to be starting two of the best left handers in all of baseball, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, 3 times during the 5 game series.
Here are exact numbers on the Twins hitting this year:
versus righties = .282/.339/.449 (ranking them 1st in batting average, 4th in slugging % and 7th in on-base % among AL teams against righties)
versus lefties = .252/.318/.411 (ranking them 8th in batting average, 8th in slugging % and 9th in on-base % among AL teams against lefties)
2) The A's, much like the Twins, do way better against right handed pitching AND the Twins will be starting right handed pitchers in games 1-3 and game 5.
Here are the same stats on the A's hitting:
versus righties = .266/.345/.441 (9th in batting average, 7th in slugging % and 3rd in on-base %)
versus lefties = .247/.320/.404 (10th in batting average, 9th in slugging %, and 8th in on-base %)
So basically, the A's are taking advantage of the Twins biggest weakness, while the Twins are playing into the A's biggest strength.
You put that together with the A's having homefield advantage and the Twins being only 40-40 on the road this year and you get a series that I don't think the Twins have much chance of winning.
If the Twins have any chance of winning, a couple of things are going to need to happen.
1) Ron Gardenhire is going to have to be willing to sit Jacque Jones and David Ortiz, in favor of Bobby Kielty and Matthew LeCroy.
But the way Gardy has been making his lineups out lately, it looks like Jones is going to be starting in left field and leading off versus lefties.
And that's bad news for Twins fans because Jacque hit .213/.259/.331 against southpaws this year and .182/.224/.200 off them last season.
I also heard Gardy say that he likes the idea of having Bobby Kielty around as a late inning pinch hitter.
Bobby Kielty is a very good hitter (and one of my favorite players), so he would obviously be a nice guy to have available to pinch hit in a playoff game.
Heck, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez would also both be nice guys to have as pinch hitters.
You can't assume that you are going to be in a close game, let alone a close game with a situation for a pinch hitter in a key spot.
So, why would you leave Kielty on the bench in order to use him in a situation that may not even occur, instead of using him to replace someone who hits horribly against left handed pitchers.
In the playoffs, and especially in games against the caliber of starting pitching that Oakland has, you need to maximize your chances of scoring runs, which means getting your best hitters the most possible plate appearances you can get them.
Which means getting Bobby Kielty and his .374 on-base % versus lefties into the lineup for 4 at bats, instead of maybe 1 at bat as a pinch hitter.
2) The Twins are going to have to take advantage of the one area of strength that they have over Oakland, their bullpen.
The A's have great starting pitching, but if the Twins can work some long at bats and get those pitch counts up, they can get into the Oakland pen and do some damage.
It is a lot easier said than done obviously, as Zito, Hudson and Mulder are all complete game shutouts waiting to happen at anytime and in any game.
But the Oakland relief corps are vulnerable, starting with the closer, Billy Koch (6 blown saves), and working all the down through Jim Mecir (4.26 ERA) and Chad Bradford (4.86 post all-star break ERA).
The Twins need to get decent pitching performances from their right handed starting pitchers, get them out of the game before they can allow any damage and then turn the game over to the three great lefties in their bullpen, Johan Santana, J.C. Romero and Eddie Guardado.
And on offense, they need to find a way to get the Oakland starters out of the game earlier than the 8th or 9th inning and then take advantage of the A's (primarily right handed) middle-relief.
The Minnesota Twins fan and "Homer" in me says that they can do all (or at least some) of that stuff I just mentioned.
But the baseball fan and realist in me says they most likely won't be able to do any of it on a consistent enough basis to do any good.
Boy do I hope I'm wrong!
Prediction: A's in 4.
There you have it, my complete previews and predictions for all four Division Series.
As always, if more than 1 of my 4 predictions turn out to be wrong, I deny having ever written any of this.
If this entry somehow vanishes into cyberspace, never to be seen again, I had nothing to do with it.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the baseball.
Oh yeah, before I forget, GO TWINS!!!!!!!!!!!! (did I say that already?)